Personal assistants and other outsourcing

Life with a baby is suddenly hectic again, especially when you’re used to living with an elementary schooler who can entertain hirself pretty well.  Especially that whole not sleeping thing.

One thing that is recommended for we middle-class and upper-middle-class folks when time is of the essence is outsourcing.  Pay someone to clean, to do yard-work, child-care, and all the little errands that need to be done.  The higher the value of our time, the more we should be outsourcing.  Someone else should buy groceries or take things to the recycling center!  Get a personal assistant to take care of the honey-do list.

In the past, when DC1 was tiny, we did on occasion hire a college student, generally one of our mother’s helpers or a friend of theirs, to just go through our to-do list and get things done.  For less than $100, a huge amount of crap weighing on our minds for weeks, months, or even years, would get done over the course of a weekend and could stop nagging us.

Any time we have any sort of plumbing problem, we call our amazing plumbers, secure in the knowledge that for the cost of $80 and parts everything will be better.  It just isn’t worth it to try to fix it ourselves when we know they’ll do it right the first time without us getting dirty or wasting our time rushing to Home Depot.  (My sister, who makes way more than I do, recently fixed her garbage disposal, which would have been fine if her housemate hadn’t not realized it was broken for over a week.  The disgust factor alone would have be getting out my checkbook.)

Outsourcing can be awesome.

On the other hand, DH is currently doing all of our yard-work.  We’d love to outsource it, but after going through something like 7 different companies we just gave up.  Either they try to cheat us by charging more than was agreed to, or they run over our blueberry bushes with the mower, or they do a great job for a few years, then graduate and sell the company to someone who mows over our blackberry bushes.  Finding new people we can trust who won’t kill our lawn is just way more trouble than it’s worth.

Similarly with cleaning folks… you can get a crew who will cost an arm and a leg and sometimes do a great job and sometimes suck, just depending on who is on the team that week, or you can get a one-person company.  The really good people everyone recommends aren’t taking on new clients.  The folks who are taking on new clients do a great job… at first, but then start turning your countertops yellow (despite the repeated explanations about bleach) and scraping your hardwood floors while ignoring things they used to do a good job on.  They get complacent.  And so, we just live in squalor.  Squalor uses fewer chemicals too.

Since DC1 started going to preschool and our mother’s helpers and previous folks graduated, it became difficult to find someone to do personal assisting kinds of work.  Sure we could advertise, but interviewing folks for something that’s only going to save the time of a weekend…well, we might as well take the goodwill stuff to goodwill ourselves.  Or just put off that chore.

And let’s not even go into tax implications and making sure the help is legal so when the President of the United States tries to appoint you to a high level position there isn’t that as a reason to block the candidacy.

So yes, outsourcing can be awesome, but good help is hard to find.

I am looking forward to having mother’s helpers around again.  In the past they cleaned the kitchen while DC1 nursed.  A small part of their jobs, but one that made me happy.  I’m hoping for the same with DC2.  Hopefully we’ll find some awesome childcare help.  Paying above market wage seemed to help last time and will hopefully help this time too.

Do you outsource?  Why or why not?  What do you outsource?  Have you had trouble finding good people you can trust?  Where do you find great people for outsourcing?

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25 Responses to “Personal assistants and other outsourcing”

  1. feMOMhist Says:

    I find it ironic that I had a P.A. and hired house cleaners when I had no kids, but don’t now! I can’t find cleaners for reasons you cite above, plus that $200/month just seems wasted when house is trashed in a matter of days. We pay through the nose for yard work but worth it due to sciDAD’s allergies, but he pretty much fixes everything that breaks (people with engineering backgrounds are v. helpful to have around!0.

  2. Alyssa Says:

    We outsource our general cleaning – but we try not to expect much from them. As long as they’re doing the surface cleaning, and deeper cleaning of the bathrooms and kitchen, we’re happy. We sometimes outsource home-related things: DH can fix things and likes to have projects, but somethings either need to be done ASAP with little-to-no problems (leaking bathtub, hot water heater breaking, etc.) or are too large/annoying for DH to take on by himself (putting new plumbing in for bathroom, installing new roof), so we call people in for that.

    How do you go about finding a mother’s helper? I’d like to look into that next time around or, at the very least, find a reliable baby-sitter or two!

  3. First Gen American Says:

    We have a house cleaner that comes 2/month. We recently got her to go to my moms once a month too. My mom protested hotly about it at first but I was sick of spending my weekends cleaning her place. She can’t bend down very well anymore so the floors especially in the bathrooms were gross. It was more for me than her. My cleaning person is great but it took a long time to find her. We had a mediocre person for years and it drove me bananas.

    We also have full time daycare but don’t outsource anything else out. For repairs, my husband just doesn’t trust the contractors around here.

  4. gwinne Says:

    Oh, I am bemoaning the loss of our mother’s helper already. They are great things (and I think you are the reason I decided to go that direction!).

    Hadn’t occurred to me to have someone go through my to do list. She’d be awesome at that, too…

  5. Leah Says:

    We outsource our car stuff, and that’s about it. But I am one of the outsource helpers for another family! I babysit some adorable little twin guys, now getting to be toddlers. I get paid just $10 an hour, but that’s sadly above market rate here where we live. I actually had people in town pay me $5 an hour for babysitting and refuse to pay more — didn’t go back to those houses. Seems to me that a babysitter with a master’s degree should make at least minimum wage, even if it is a small town.

    I used to babysit a lot, and I’d do stuff like clean the house. With most families, I had a strict no-tv rule. I’d cook/bake with the kids, and we also did science experiments. I got paid way more for these families. I kind of miss those days. It was fun to teach just two kids for the sheer joy of enjoying what we were doing.

  6. rented life Says:

    About cleaners–If you are hiring through a company rather than a “freelance” cleaner, there’s a reason for the shoddy work. (I used to do this and then quit because it was better to clean alone.) Companies don’t pay their employees hourly, they pay per house. Some of us were ethical and wanted to do the right thing by the customers, but if we didn’t hit X houses, we got paid a lot less. You don’t get lunch, you don’t get paid for travel time and sometimes even if you want to do a good job your crew doesn’t because it’s about the money. You could work 9-5 and make a lot less than minimum wage. Oh yeah, and you were required to show up at the office at 8 for a “breakfast meeting” that you also aren’t paid for. Hire an individual. I charged $10/hour, would show up as often/little as needed. Sometimes I sorted clothes for goodwill, sometimes I did laundry, spring cleaning or basic cleaning. The people who were flexible with my schedule (I had other things to do) were my favorite. Especially if they let me pick the cleaning products (certain things work better and if you don’t clean–these people def. did NOT–then let me decide, you’ll be happy.) Knowing all this, I’d never outsource cleaning–I’ve mastered too many time-saving methods to bother. We didn’t outsource yard work when we had a home, but we both enjoy that so it’s not an issue. We outsourced our heating problems, but the guy was excellent, I’d suggest him to everyone. Husband can do eletrical but hates plumbing, so we outsource that. And the car stuff…sure we could do it, I don’t want to.

    We have a cat sitter for when we go on trips, she cleans when she stays though I always tell her she doesn’t have to. One time she made cookies! bonus! She’s worth the money because the cats aren’t stressed–I’d rather pay for her than a vet bill. When we were kids my family was pretty big on helping out each other—someone always stayed with the family after the baby was born to do errands, cook and just help out. When mom had my brother, grandma stayed with me and stayed for awhile after he was born, to take care of me, cook, etc.

  7. bogart Says:

    We have a SAHS, reducing the need to outsource but not necessarily the desire to do so. For the house, we outsource anything that is structural, involves more electrical work than (e.g.) installing a new light fixture (i.e. hooking into existing wiring), or would be a major hassle. Though hints of a conversation about whether we should reshingle the roof ourselves or hire someone are already afoot (last time we did it ourselves; this time, we are ~15 years older than we were last time, and less broke. However, we now own a nail gun (we, duh, should have bought one last time, just for that job alone). As I’m wanting to do a major remodel that will necessitate replacing the roof, I’m hoping we can delay until we can afford that, period.).

    Childcare we outsource to institutional settings (a phrase that makes them sound dreadful when they have in fact been great. Though 2/3 of our ‘institutions’ have been women running small businesses in their homes, one certified, one not (but a family friend)). Babysitting needs we outsource to extended family, friends (remunerated) or a neighborhood teenager, depending on the needs.

    I prefer squalor and the lack of chemicals to paying for cleaning. DH would disagree, but has lost out on this one for reasons of budgets and inertia.

    A neighborhood teen provides dog care when we are out of town and is *great*.

    One impecunious (though gainfully employed!) adult stepkid is in almost perpetual need of odd jobs (well, $$$ to be earned through…), so another good outsourcing resource for us. Hiring family does introduce occasional bumps, but eliminates concerns about both dishonesty and true carelessness (at least for us), and is a nice way to help someone out without it being a freebie.

    • rented life Says:

      How on earth did you survive doing a roof without a nailgun? I am in awe.

      • bogart Says:

        Haha! Narrowly? The better question might be: what the heck were we thinking? The answer — not clearly? But, I suppose the answer is, one nail at a time. I can only remember one whack (of a digit) that led to significant bleeding …

        Parts of this were in the summer in the Southeast. Ice cubes wrapped in a bandana and tied around the neck helped. Have I ever mentioned I’m stubborn? That helps!

    • darchole Says:

      Same here, we mostly use out of work (or just doesn’t want to work) family or family friends. For other things, references of people who actually do understand what a good job doing whatever actually looks like. (For example the person in construction recommending an electrician or plumber.) However still haven’t found a company that can actually mow the lawn cleanly and quickly, on a regular basis.

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    We have a house cleaner who comes once per week to do laundry, clean the bathrooms and kitchen, vacuum, dust, etc. She is not very good at the actual cleaning, but she doesn’t damage anything and PhysioCatte loves her. So there you go.

  9. Linda Says:

    Back in my DINK days, I used to have a housecleaner, Jadwiga. She was awesome. She came every two weeks and spent about four to five hours cleaning the house. She regularly cleaned two bathrooms, the kitchen, living room, dining room, and three bedrooms, and every once in a while cleaned the guest bedroom and tidied in the finished basement and bathroom. She retired about the time I got divorced and had to face the prospect of paying all the household bills myself. Her daughter cleaned for me once a month for a few months, but she didn’t do as good of a job and I decided I’d rather save the money and do the cleaning myself. I hate dusting, but I’m OK with most other cleaning. Plus I took on roommates and they had to keep their own bedrooms and bathrooms clean, which minimized the amount of cleaning needed anyway.

    Other things I outsource include major landscaping upkeep such as re-mulching and tree-trimming, as well as most home maintenance chores. I have a handyman I pay to do things like install light fixtures, patch, paint, etc. It’s worth it to me since I’d much rather spend my limited free time on stuff that doesn’t have a learning curve for me (like vacuuming the floor and cooking) than painting the walls, and I also want to spend some time relaxing. Plus as a live-in landlord, I get to write off a portion of the handyman’s work, too. I got the handyman’s name from my therapist, of all people. He’s great, though, and I’ve passed his name on to a few other friends.

    • bogart Says:

      See this is interesting to me because honestly on some level I prefer stuff that involves a steep learning curve, though don’t get me wrong, I’m aware there can be a significant downside to same. So I’d much rather outsource the repetitive and do/learn the new, but time cost (not to mention getting-it-wrong cost) can shift the balance.

      • Linda Says:

        The time cost (and getting it wrong cost) is the issue here for me. I can’t afford to waste time trying to fix something when I have no idea what I’m doing; it’s much more “affordable” for me to pay someone else to do those things and to spend that same time doing something else that I can do competently and efficiently. Make sense?

      • bogart Says:

        Makes perfect sense! I think I just tilt heavily toward “steep learning curve” as a benefit, but I totally get that there are those who see it only as a cost, and others, or other times/circumstances, where it ends up not counterbalancing other associated costs despite perhaps itself being a benefit.

  10. J Liedl Says:

    Things that make me cry: trying to find someone to help me. Do you know that scene in “Pretty Woman” where the Julia Roberts character is getting chewed out by the hotel manager and he mentions her unsuitable dress? Then she shoves a wad of cash at him and wails that she has all this money but she can’t get anyone to take it and give her a dress?

    That’s my experience with trying to organize respite care for Autistic Youngest. They gave me money but I couldn’t find a way under their rules to spend it (extra bonus fun of having to front the money first and wait for a reimbursement). Finally, I stopped applying. Sometimes it really is easier to do it yourself than to face the heartbreak and hassle of working through another’s system. I long for the days when they provided occasional outings and activities at the Centre as opposed to this unhelpful paradigm of ‘family-based care’.

    I’m a big fan of outsourcing when I can actually get some help. Our plumber’s awesome and our catsitter’s amazing but there are a lot of duties that I wish we could get assistance with but haven’t had the luck to make that happen. *sigh*

    • Cloud Says:

      Your post makes me so sad. And I can’t even begin to think of a way to fix this in our current political climate. Which makes me even sadder.

  11. Cloud Says:

    So far, we really only outsource housecleaning and day care. We’ve talked about getting more help, but get stuck on our different opinions of what should be outsourced. I say the lawn care, but my husband is resistant. Therefore, the next thing may be finding some general “personal assistant” type help, but figuring out where to find that and how to do the payments legally makes my head hurt. So for now, we just let things slide. Except that recently landed me in urgent care with an asthma attack when I kept forgetting to fill my maintenance meds… Lesson: choose the things to let slide a little more carefully!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      legal payments are easy so long as you don’t pay more than a certain amount

      when we hired one of our longer term mother’s helpers to take care of other things after dc started daycare, part of her job was figuring out her taxes if we went over that amount

      • Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

        In some states, it’s not just the taxes – NYS you needed a disability and workers comp policy in place on day one of employment or you faced fines of like $1000 a day. Just a nice little way NY was trying to encourage people to create jobs… We did all the paperwork to become an official employer upon hiring a full-time nanny, and now outsource payroll as well as childcare and housekeeping (all paid legally). Some day I will do a post on how frustrated I am at how few people pay household employees legally, and how the government clearly doesn’t seem to care (except if you get nominated for federal office).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        and only if you are a *female* nominated for federal office

  12. Funny about Money Says:

    Jeez, how annoying. Is there any way to post to your site without having to sign in to a WordPress account that you don’t use anymore? It erased my comment and threw me out.

  13. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I would LOVE to outsource. It’s on my one day list. I’d outsource two things– cleaning and cooking. Oh to have a cook!


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